Five Minute Devotions: Romans 3
Romans 3 is one of the most pivotal chapters in the entire New Testament. Having spent the first two chapters railing about depravity, it all reaches its crescendo in Romans 3. First, Paul concludes his observations about Judaism, stating that being a Jew is beneficial, because as the chosen ones, they had direct access to the words of God (Rom. 3:1-8). Next, he reaches his conclusions about both Jews and Gentiles: that everyone has sinned and is deserving of God’s eternal wrath. To give his statement power, he cites a whole list of Old Testament quotes that agree (Rom. 3:9-20). However, the Law and the Prophets also agree upon this: that God’s righteousness has been made known outside the law (Rom. 3:21). Paul finishes with the clear fact that all have sinned, but all are also justified freely through Christ Jesus. Salvation is by faith, not of works; and God is a God of all people, not just the Jews (Rom. 3:22-31).
In chapter three, Paul makes the legal case for humanity’s guilty verdict. In it, he makes the stunning conclusion that the Law cannot save, it can only condemn. All of us, Jew and Gentile alike, stand condemned both by the external law in the Old Testament and the internal law of our conscience. We are guilty. We are sinners. We are deserving of eternal separation from God.
Christians tend to either fixate on this doctrine to an unhealthy obsession or skim right over it without giving it the gravitas it deserves. We cannot truly appreciate our salvation until we truly understand what it is we have been saved from. But neither should we have an unhealthy obsession over the past. God has put it out of his memory and so should we as well.
Having argued that the Law cannot save, Paul then turns to the one he calls his Savior.
Yes, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). That’s the verse we memorize in Sunday School. But we miss the point if we do not follow it up with verse 24, which contains an even more important truth:
and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus
Let’s break this down.
What has happened? Justification.
This is the act of being made righteous. Not being made to appear righteous. Not being treated as righteous. But being declared righteous. Not a legal fiction, but a legal reality of the utmost importance. All charges against the defendant have been dropped, because the crimes of which he is undoubtedly guilty have already been paid through the shed blood of Christ on the cross.
Who has it happened to? All.
The parallels between verses 23 and 24 cannot be missed.
…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
…all are justified freely by his grace
What matters now is not sin. Jesus took each and every one of those on the cross. It is heresy to say that there is sin the blood of Jesus could or did not cover. It doesn’t matter who you are, you are no longer legally responsible for the ultimate penalty of your sin. Jesus has conquered that. Sin is, from an eternal perspective, of no consequence.
What is of eternal consequence is whether or not you have a relationship with Jesus Christ. You get into heaven not based on what you do, but who you know. God has justified you through Jesus, but you can only apply it in your life and accept it through a relationship with him.
How has it happened? Given freely by God’s grace, costly through Christ’s redemption.
Paul presents here an amazing paradox. The greatest gift came at the ultimate cost. The thing most valuable is being given away. There is a huge difference between giving something away for free and giving something away freely. Free implies a lack of cost, and that’s what it is for us—but that’s only because the cost has already been paid for us. Freely implies an abundance of grace. It is to give liberally, generously, unreservedly, and unabashedly regardless of the value of what is being given away. Salvation isn’t free; it is freely given by the one who paid it all.